Monday, November 29, 2010

My trip to Gamma Terra...

Following is a repost from Exonauts, October 25, 2010.

Here's a pic I took of the event poster, in where else? The bathroom (no lie).
Saturday, I attended the Gamma World release event at the Source Comics and Games (my FLGS) here in the Twin Cities. It's been about a year since I've played D&D 4E, and I have to say I felt really rusty. In fact, I'm sure I annoyed some of the other players, but in my defense I played the "newb" at the table so I ended up with several people helping me along with some of the crunch.

The Source held two sessions (11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.) each running about four hours. Since I'd been offered tickets to go see the Gopher game in the morning (they lost--surprise!) I went to the latter. After signing up, I was placed at a table with four other players (three of whom who were pals) and another fellow. They all seemed like nice guys, the three who knew each other seemed to be regular--or at least non-novice-- 4E players and had things down pat. We all began as 1st Level PCs. Our little A-Team of mutants consisted of:
  • Chitter-Chitter: a rat swarm in humanoid form that had psionic powers and wielded the Skillet of Justice™
  • Catnip: a feline plant who later acquired a Heavy-lift Harness (think Ripley in Aliens)
  • Frank: I misheard his origin, but I think he was an enhanced human of some kind with a hoverboard and and fantastically high mechanics skill
  • Kenshiro: again, chargen was somewhat chaotic, but I think he was made out of rock or metal, he swung a brick flail
  • Zeke the Beak: a giant hawkoid who swung a full-sized mailbox and a harpoon gun, and donned armor made of salvaged ironing boards
I played Zeke. Here's a rendering:
Zeke's stats (with modifiers:
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 16 (+3)
WIS: 16 (+3)
INT: 10 (n/a)
CHA: 7 (-2)
HP: 28 / Bloodied: 14
Zeke had a Nature skill with a +4, which came in completely useless as he had a habit of rolling natural 1's. Oh, and being a hawkoid, he could of course fly his speed (6).

AC: 18
Fortitude: 14
Reflex: 13
Will: 14

The demo module, "Trouble in Freesboro" has five encounters. *Spoiler!* We started outside on a lonely highway and came across some porkers (humanoid pigs) and a swarm of radioactive birds which proved down-right tough to kill. That encounter lasted forever. Later we sauntered over to a research lab where we fought some bots on a rooftop and made our way into the main event (thus skipping two encounters).

There has already been plenty of reviews of the material included in the new set, unboxing videos, and plenty of discussion, so I won't rehash, but I will tell you my initial impressions. For ease, I'll just bullet:
  • First off, we'd all purchased our own booster cards as required by WotC and the store, though the GM was a swell guy and I want to say he'd have been lenient and let us share or borrow a few from his deck.
  • As we all know, 4E is heavy on the crunch, and that's not diluted in Gamma World, however it does play a bit faster and looser. For instance, stats on single and two-handed weapons are listed without going into every permutation thereof, my two-handed mailbox was just as as deadly as say a two-handed parking meter.
  • I'll admit, I'm an idiot sometimes, but I was annoyed that the character sheet and stat blocks for powers (in the manual) are an overcrowded nightmare. Half the time I couldn't tell what I was looking at, let along what blank I had to fill in. Being an idiot in a rush to complete his character didn't help.
  • We did roll quite a few skills that (if it were an OSR game) we likely didn't need to roll for. Frank's mechanic skill (padded through bonuses and some equipment he'd acquired) often ended up in the 30+ range. Yet the GM had him roll his mechanics skill at least three times--twice to defeat door locks.  After a while the GM did relent, again, in the interest of moving things along. I wish this were less a GM-style issue, and more encouraged by the rules themselves.
  • Damage in GW is insanely brutal, with many rounds running like a live-action cartoon of carnage. While fun, we  were warned early and often that we may have to roll up new PCs.
  • The prospect of chargen during the game seems ridiculous to me since it took so long in the first place. The GM had his hands full with the five of us rolling up shiny new PCs. Even with 4E players using a photo copy of the armor and origin tables, it took nearly 40 min. While it would go much faster once you knew what you were doing, each origin has it's own inherited powers so you'd better be familiar with the book if you want it go faster. I had my own solution.*
  •  Apart from these, I'm actually a big fan of the random booster cards. They were definitely the stars of the show and made for an exciting game overall. Early previews of the game had criticized it with more power-boosting/munchkining, but since the game's main strength is its outlandishness (and frankly, it's point) I see this as a benefit.
  • Alpha mutations make up not only your origin, but play a big part from encounter to encounter.  
  • Omega tech is likely far too powerful for OSR tastes, being plentiful in the way of a deck each player can collect, and having the ability to be "overcharged" to enhance performance, but often limits it to single or limited use.
  • All in all I had a lot of fun and I'd play again, though it's quite apparent that so much of the game is sucked up checking rules. This seems like it would be the case for anyone (GM or PCs) learning a new game though, so might not be a big issue in the long run.
Adventure-wise, I don't even know that it would be worth while to recap the whole debacle because it was insane!  Here I thought my giant birdman slapping people around with a mailbox would be the life of the party--but the scene stealer was Catnip climbing up the side of the lab building in the load harness by punching holes in the exterior wall. Even better was his descent down a stairwell that, uh, didn't go so well for the stairs.While we ended up with Catnip and Kenshiro down to 1 and 2 HP respectively, our claim to fame was becoming one of the few groups that day to have all PCs make it the end alive. Quite the feat when you figure that despite the harsh combat, the GM didn't pull any punches.

While all four of the guys playing were great roleplayers, Frank's player sort of became the default "leader" tracking initiative, helping move things along, and knew his rules (even helping the GM) and this made for a better, smoother game experience.

In the end, Zeke flew away with:
  • 420 XP
  • A downed robot's head, which he sported as a hat
  • A kalidoscope that which he eventually traded with Chitter-Chitter for a pair of swim goggles
The Source received a few extra copies of the module and by the end of the night they gave a few to interested parties, such as myself, which was much appreciated! I'd ordered the game online and it arrived at home the day I played (fate!) so I was pleased as punch to dig into the material.
While it would have been nice to have them included in the box, I had the chance to pick out my own set of "irradiated die", pictured above with the Freesboro module.
In any case, I think any group could improve on some of the crunchiness. *To save time I snapped a photos of the powers for my giant (origin 1) hawkoid (origin 2) powers on my smartphone rather than write them all out in a mad dash (which I tried and ended up not being able to read my own scribbles). It was a handy workaround for looking up powers on the fly.
Zeke's favorite tactic was to "deliver the mail" using Brickbat.
Zeke was careful not to use the shriek too often since his buddies were often too close to enemies in combat.
If you've got any curiosity in checking out a 4E game, GW would be a great place to start. I'll reiterate what I've read from others that I can see it as a nice interim game between regular campaign sessions. Just be sure to roll up plenty of PCs beforehand--hell, that's half the fun!

A list of the booster cards Alpha (mutation) and Omega (technology)
Overviews of origins and character generation
Overview of gear

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friends of Starship Warden: Gamma Creator Jim Ward Very Ill

I'm a bit behind the curve on this, but still wanted to pass along that Jim Ward, author of Metamorphosis Alpha, the original Gamma World, and one of TSR's founding editors has fallen seriously ill and is in need of some help. His family and close friends have set up a website to help alleviate some of the cost of his care. From the website:
He has been diagnosed, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, with a serious neurological disorder. The gaming world came close to saying goodbye to yet another of the pioneers of RPGing several months ago. The experts say that Jim's condition is treatable and manageable, but will remain very serious forever.

Jim is very, very slowly recovering; every day is a new skirmmish with the disorder. He still suffers from acute bouts of dizziness and a pervasive lassitude due to bodily energy issues.

While Jim and his family are fortunate to have some health insurance, the co-pays are mounting at an alarming rate, having hit five digits some while ago and showing no signs of abating any time soon.
Having had a grandmother treated there for Alzheimer's, I can vouch that the Mayo Clinic provides amazing neurologic care. If you've enjoyed any of Mr. Ward's fine work, this Thanksgiving weekend would seem to be an ideal time to visit Friends of Starship Warden and share your appreciation.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gamma Theater: "America 3000" (1986)

Al over at Beyond the Black Gate posted a picture in his regular Friday Frazetta's for a movie called "America 3000". Set some 900 years after the apocolypse (which, of course, occurred in the 1980s!) the world is reduced to rubble and ruled by women (Amazons?). At least its Wikipedia entry says as much--and not much else.

Here's a bonus clip of the film's highlights "in under 10 minutes" which is both sad and hilarious:

Is "The Lost Future" SyFy's Foray into Gamma World?

Either I don't watch enough TV (that hardly seems possible!) or this is bound to be so bad that they didn't bother promoting it. But the SyFy Channel is premiering a new movie-of-the-week that skirts very close to Gamma World territory. It stars Sean Bean (of LotR fame) as a primate tribesman living among civilization's ruins. Check out the trailer and this blurb from IMDB:
A group of post-apocalyptic survivors, struggle to survive in a world where jungles and forests and primeval wetlands and deserts have obliterated civilization. They staunchly face genetically mutating beasts and mysterious diseases in an attempt to re-establish the human race as masters of Earth.
SyFy's webpage is even more sparse on details, but I did spot a mention that the mutations are caused by a disease, rather than nuclear radiation or the happy-black-hole-maker.

Here's another preview (which looks hokey/generic):

Ah man, I'm sorry you had to see that. (And I doubly apologize for SyFy's atrociously obnoxious vid player). But the trailer looks slightly more GW-like. Might be worth checking out for some B-movie fun. For me, it's going to have to wait until it's replayed since I'll be seeing Skyline Saturday!

James Ward interviewed by Wizards of the Coast

Metamorphosis Alpha, the first Sci-Fi RPG and predecessor to Gamma World
Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha creator James Ward was recently interviewed by Wizards of the Coast in light of their October GW revival. Ward talks about his intentions behind creating Metamorphosis as the first sci-fi RPG, and the unintentional effect of Gamma World's rep as a goofy game.

Both games sort of mutated (ha!) once released into the wild, as players and GMs began playing the games not as intended by their author (though I don't think Ward minded too much). One example that strikes me as interesting is captured in this quote by Ward:
When I designed Metamorphosis Alpha, I wanted a science-fiction version of D&D that was an outer space dungeon. I fully expected people to buy the product and create their own starships. Imagine my complete surprise when almost everyone created their own Starship Warden.
So does that mean the game has been played "wrong" for decades? ;)

/Hat tip to Grognardia

Monday, November 8, 2010

RACE: Pure Strain Humans a.k.a. "Valids"

Pure strain humans are precisely that--homo sapiens who have managed to avoid genetic mutation from the ravages of irradiation and mutagenic substances that pollute the surface of the planet. As a result they tend to see themselves as the only true (a.k.a. "valid") heirs to humanity. While they are indeed human, their genome represents the pinnacle of human potential, taking great care to avoid inbreeding or any type of genetic contamination.

By hiding in vast subterranean cities a mile or more underground, these humans have preserved their way of life--and in nearly all cases improved greatly on technology to survive and defend themselves.
Most pockets of valids have thrived due in part to a strict social and political regime that promotes unity and obedience. Straying from these norms will lead to a quick sentence of banishment to the surface world, which is thought to be a hellish punishment from which there is no escape. A utopian society of intellectual and collective "perfection" is often the ideal lofted on the populace and enforced using automaton security forces.
Due to their long-term underground existence, pure strain society has had to push their technology in order to provide an desirable livelihood. Beam weapons, environmental suits, ray shielded vehicles and armor, and the latest medical technologies are advances commonly found in these colonies. They rarely venture to the surface except on scouting missions and occasional mutant kidnappings for test subjects.

In the beginning, few pure strain groups communicated with one another, but in more recent times, they've fostered alliances to keep in contact on surface developments. Some reports indicate that a new strategy having something to do with top dwellers may be taking shape. In general, Valids are not to be openly trusted, as their technology and fear of the surface makes them formidable adversaries....

Logan's Run
Total Recall


In a future after the great cataclysm, the Earth is a ravaged battle ground ruled by mutated survivors, genetic supers, and new evolutionaries. Conflict is the law of land--every last irradiated square inch of it. But underground, the pure strain humans survived--and are ready to take back the surface. Armed with their advanced technology, they launch a surprise attack on the hard-scrabble mutant masses.The mutants, for their part, will not give in and are raising a force of freedom fighters to turn back the tide.

As the war rages on, neither side is aware that they are being watched from afar. Soon both factions will need to fight for their very existence.... for the ruthless alien overlords have arrived! They seek conquest of a weakened populace and to harvest the Earth for their own diabolical schemes.

Will the mutants and pure strains team up to defend their world against the alien invaders? Or will it be a three-sided, all out war?

Don't waste time wondering--pick up your 2x4, don your stop sign shield, and load your radium rifle! Choose your side and get ready to rumble in the throw-down-to-end-all-throw-downs.